Reply To: The Archaeology of the Commons

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Fanny # Posted on January 5, 2016 at 11:07

The Archaeology of the Commons
Karl-Johan Lindholm , Emil Sandström & Ann-Kristin Ekman, you find he repor here

It was after Ellen Ostrom’s famous theory of common pool resources 1990 when the discussion and narrative about commons has start to change. (p. 4) To be clear, an open pool resource is a resource who has a well defined group of users who in some way are connected with the same land/resource. (p.4) For a long time was commons misused as a concept, and mixed up with, open access resources. Much of this is caused after the world spread paper ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ published by Garrett Hardin’s in 1968. (p.4)

Then, what is an open access resource? It is a resource with no regulation and has not a defined group of users. As one can notice, quite different from the common pool resource. Even today are we told a different story. A story that it is essential for the swedish forest resources (and I have not doubt that it is the same with many other natural resources) to be controlled by the state and private ownership for economic growth and prosperity. (P.5) However, common pool resource management starts to come back to the discussion on how to handle resources both on local scales (to increase local participation and implement a sharing economy) as well as how to deal with global resources such as the internet, atmosphere and oceans (P.4)

The management of the swedish forest has shifted during the 19th century, to become more state controlled and privatized. Before this increased state/corporation involvement of the common resources written documentation was not made in the same way, and therefore are these resources called hidden resources. (p.6) The research group behind “the Archaeology of the commons” aims to discover how the hidden resources in one particular place in the center of Sweden, Ängersjö in Hälsingland, was dealt with by using an archaeological approach. (p.8) The purpose with the paper was to discover if and how an archaeology approach can be used to raise a long-term understanding of common resource management, also to collect more valuable knowledge to the current debate about common resources.

I see many advantages and positive outcomes with reinforcing and developing the management of natural resources similar to the common pool theory. Today’s increased business model to privatize and/or involve state control takes away the power from the local citizens and centralizes the governance of nature. One of the consequences this gives is that the main actors who extract natural resource often lack relations to the land and the people they affect. Just think of the Sami people struggle in the northern Scandinavia, indigenous people in Canada, mining on Gotland and so on. I believe that this together with economical growth push the development away from ecological sustainability and social justice. Common pool influenced reconstruction of how management of natural resources is for sure one possible way to create a more sustainable and fair system.

“The Archaeology of the commons”-paper focuses to look at natural management activities that were labour intensive, required cooperation and which also had relation from pre-historical and and later time periods (to get a long-term perspective of the common pool management). Activities they finally chosen were; pitfalls which were used in larger game huntings (p. 14); livestock production, by looking at traces of shielings; meadow and pastures; iron production; tar production; mills and roads. By mapping out all these archaeological traces and place names given by the common pool activities, they find more or less intense clusters. One result was that the archaeological traces mainly came from game hunting and iron productions. On the other hand was places named mostly after livestock production and mills. When combining archaeological traces and place named and saw that there is less than 1 % chance that the clustered patterns are random. (see figure 16 p. 31) This shows that a village often was built near water. The land from the water och to the nearest hill belonged to the specific village. From the other side of the flat keel of the hill the commons began. (p. 31) In 1320 this was more established by a law named Hälsingelagen. (p.30)

After the 19th century when the extensive land reform was made, the landscape changed a lot and so did the land lots of Ängersjö. But, common pool areas are still noticed in today’s maps over the land system. A high percent of the land that this paper argues where common pool resources, 85 % of the archaeological traces and 72 % of the old place names are, was under the 19th century divided into smaller and well define personal or family land slots. (p.34) Once again does this show that old structures are reflected in new laws and systems.

The authors to the article argues that the activities on the common pool areas are closely interlinked with the raised demands on certain resources, especially due to the growing population of northern Europe. The common pool areas was a golden resource that the villages used for wealth and prosperity to the local village.(p. 39) Some evidence for this argumentation is that some products and activities had a much higher production than the local consumption. (p. 37)

Some reflections I have after this paper. The usage of the common pools has constantly been changed. My perception is that in the earlier year, the thought with the common pool was supposed to serve the village citizens commonwealth, to become more and more a piece of land to extract for trade and economic growth for the state. The more complex and entangled the world has been the more efficient and stable production has been required. Therefore are we told the narrative that the new and “improved” land reforms and production system are needed to give us even more growth, happiness and freedom. This has in return lead to the current centralized and unsustainable way to extract resources from nature. As I began this paper, I see huge benefits to once again reform landsystems to resume a common pool, collaborative, increase local democracy of how to use the Swedish forest. However from an ecological and sustainable perspective, one of the most important step for sustainable and resilient usage of natural resources is, from my point of view, by having national and global laws and institutions that regulate the extraction of resources. To some extent is it hard to define who the group of users would be to a common pool resource today. Where do you draw the line when we do not have the same, small villages as before? How to deal with the fact that some places have much lesser and not as usable resources as other places? However, I am sure that this problems can be regulated in good ways.